Workers and the Left fight the government on the Pensions issue in France

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Last Tuesday, Sept 7th, France virtually came to a standstill through large scale strikes and demonstrations against the intentions of the Sarkozy elit to increase the pensionable age from 60 to 62 !! For many of us living in Ireland, and in the UK, facing the prospect of pensions at the age of 65, 66, 68 or even 70,  the political climate and the discussions in France appear as if they belong to another world.

I decided to translate the article below, which appeared in L’EXPRESS yesterday penned by political journalist Thierry Dupont, for two main reasons.

One, because the very issue of pensions will be a burning item in the elections here and the  present leadership contest in the UK Labour Party.

Secondly,  because Dupont, for one full day followed the moves, travels and travails  of the French MEP, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, President of the French Left Party – Partie de Gauche.

Jean Luc and his comrades gave those of us fighting for a No vote in the first and second Lisbon referenda unstinting support and we have maintained excellent political relationships since.  Hope the article is of interest to ILR readers.

8h22: Arrive in a radio station. Débriefing with Eve Ruggier, the station boss.

8h27: Mélenchon : “Today we follow the exact route the protest will take – we don’t improvise.”

8h32: Questioned by G. Durand. “He’s very moody” says a journalist.

8h48: Mélenchon : “Whatever the extent  of our disagreements with the (French) Socialist Party may be, we will work with them against this so-called reform. It is unjust, inefficient and illegitimate – wasn’t it the President of the Republic who had promised a few months ago not to touch the pension system?”

8h50: Durand needles Mélenchon: “Do you see yourself as the Georges Marchais of the Left!” [1] Mélenchon is not rattled : “Today is a day of strikes, and I’m asking myself what the fuck are you doing working ?”

9h19: In the corridor, Mélenchon tells another journalist that Barroso will try to penalise him financially for his absence today from the European Parliament.

9h25: A txt from a close aide tells Mélenchon that his replies were: “Controversial language but your concluision was tops”. He’s delighted.

9h41: We leave the radio station and go back to his house to check his mail.. “Otherwise I will lose a day’s work.”

11h32:Mélenchon arrives in Radio-France for a live programme on France-Bleu…

11h34: Canal+, a TV station, invites him to its main news programme tonight……

12h05: Good news. Barroso just announced that  he will not penalise the MEPs absent from his Presidential speech tonight! Mélenchon smiles nervously!

12h13:He tells a Radio-France journalist: “You’re not going to praise those who have decided to break the strike today – those we call scabs  – are you?”

12h21: Mélenchon: “I reject this so-called reform. In its totality. Put our finances in order ?  If the Government cannot do this, which is its job,  if they don’t know how to do it, let them go, let them leave their posts, we can take over.”

12h28: A weather piece of news tells audiences that the weather in Bordeaux is terrible and the regional demonstration may be effected badly. Mélenchon says : “There will be huge crowds – don’t worry!”

12h30: France-bleu plays Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Mélenchon keeps up with the beat  “Radio Nostalgie here today?”

12h44: A journalist advances the argument of the increasing pensionable age in the UK and Germany. “A very sad moment for the old continent”, replies Mélenchon.

14h01: Lunch in a sushi bar. Mélenchon confirms some last minute details of the demonstration with a few Parti de Gauche activists.

14h02: We arrive at the demonstration assembly point. Huge crowds.

14h08: Mélenchon decides not to join the leading group. Too many people and the Trade Union stewards are not to his liking.

14h20: A number of journalists stop Mélenchon and request interviews. He prefers to discuss with striking nurses. A demonstrator shouts “Well done – congratulations” Mélenchon, all smiles: “Well done to all of you too”.

14h22: He stops at the Socialist  Partyy of Essonne banner, of which he was a member, and says hello to his ex-comrades. He berates one of the people he knows well that a balloon is not at the right height. “It’s been ten, years and they still take it well when I give out to them “, he smiles

14h30: The crowd salutes and claps Mélenchon “I have not chosen the most discreet way to be here.” He quips. A PS militant smirks : ” That’s not an accident !”

14h49: A journalist interrogates Mélenchon on Minister Woerth, [2] who is in charge of the Pensions reform.  He replies: ” He’s perfect, like well over cooked, charred meat, that disiontegrates by itself – inedible”. His comrades don’t like the reply and he says he won’ t repeat it.

15h10: The Parti de Gauche activists who accompany him take almost an hour to advance 500 metres – the demonstration is enormous.

15h14: Mélenchon arrives at the United Left assembly point.. He responds with Pierre Laurent of the French Communist Party and Christian Picquet, of the United Left Partyy, to journalist questions – many TV stations present. Smiles all around.  Pierre Laurent says. “Trust us, we can work well together”.

15h34: Mélenchon is bursting with energy: “Demonstrations such as the one today recharge my batteries”  he shouts to the crowd.

15h36: Mélenchon and  Laurent refuse to answer questions on the 2012 Presidentials: “Our issue today is the Pensions” they both repeat. A journalist insists and asks him if he would be a candidate in 2012 “I have no idea, ask Pierre Laurent, he may know something” The crowd laughs and many applaud.

15h45: Tens of thousands of people in the streets. Trade Union banners and many workers, in and out of Trade Unions. For Mélenchon is a test of his popularity. He’s like a star, a celebrity, and many want to take a picture of him or be photographed with him.

16h10: The crowd arrives at the United Left assembly point. Mélenchon croaks. “Where is the CGT – the Trade Union Confederation ? It’s wonderful when they are in the streets……we are only a mall drop in their ocean.”

16h36: The demonstration arrives at Bastille – many phographers wait  A woman comes forward and shouts : “You’re not only intelligent but also beautiful” He laughs but he’s delighted.

17h05: Smoke from the chimneys in the railway station cover the crowd. Hard to see.  Mélenchon engages with a number of Trade Uninists – his main questions turn around the issue of how politicised is the rank-and-file.

17h12: Mélenchon: “We shouldn’t stop – we should continue. I don’t believe that losing a battle, being defeated, has an instructional value. If we lose this one, people will hesitate to fight again on another issue.”

17h42: Mélenchon and his comrades leave the demonstration. A small break in a cafe in Sully-Morland. A coffee laced with strawberries to complete this marathon.

17h51: Mélenchon speaks on the phone to Martine Billard, Parti de Rauche member of Parliament. . “Look at the UMP amendments and understand how arrogant they are” he says.

18h47: Mélenchon in Canal+.TV. He’s tired but he still tries to summarise the importance of the day. “The Trade Unions have done a great job – it1s now up to us, the politicians to continue the struggle!”

18h51: Mélenchon wants a referendum on pensions. The other Left parties, however, are not there yet. They want the Right to take the blame for the mess.

19h05: In the C+,main news he repeats  his argument on Woerth? “He is a gift for us. Every time he opens his mouth, we can hear Bettencourt arguments”.[3]

20h05: As we are leaving C+, Mélenchon crosses the path of Yannick Noah, the ex- tennis champion, and France’s golden boy. They exchange smiles..

20h10: It’s time to call it a day. End of my journey embedded with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.


[1] Georges Marchais was the leader of the French Communist Party who initiated and took part in a number of Left Coalitions with the Socialists in the past

[2] Eric Woerth , the Frencxh Minister of Labour, who resigned as treasurer of the ruling UMP party – amid a scandal over alleged illegal political donations. Police are investigating claims that he took an illegal £125,000 cash donation from Liliane Bettancourt – the 87 year old billionaire heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics empire.

[3] See earlier note on Liliane Bettancourt – the 87 year old billionaire heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics empire.

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